The Protectorate Government and the `Jewish Question,’ 1939-1941
General Alois Eliáš headed the government of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as of April 27, 1939. A leading member of the secret military organization “ON,” he maintained contact with the Czechoslovak National Committee formed abroad and, later, with Dr. Eduard Beneš’s government-in-exile in London. Eliáš’s policy of retarding the implementation of Nazi policies and his “double game,” as well as his tragic fate have no analogy: he was the only Prime Minister tried and executed by the Nazis for high treason (June 19, 1942). The article examines the stance of Eliáš’s government against the background of the promulgation of the anti-Jewish laws in the years 1939-1941 and his intention to prevent the transfer of Jewish property to German hands in order to safeguard Czech national interests. While Eliáš’s draft proposal, defining Jews by religion, was still being examined by the German authorities, the Reich Protector surprised the Czech government on June 21, 1939, by issuing his own comprehensive decree on Jewish property, based on the racial criteria of the Nuremberg Laws. Simultaneously the Reich Protector retained full authority and jurisdiction over the Jewish community. Eliáš’s government also failed in its efforts to exempt a certain category of Jews and some privileged individuals from the law. He can, nevertheless, be credited with a meaningful symbolic act – refusing to be lured by the Germans into becoming the avant-garde of racism and accepting the New Order in Europe.